The life span of a wind turbine blade is roughly 20 years. Can we recycle them?

What You Need To Know

  • Wind turbine blades are a composite material made of fiberglass

  • We can recycle fiberglass, but it is not cost-effective to do so

  • The life span of a blade is approximately 20 years

  • By 2050, we'll dump over two million tons of wind turbine blades in U.S. landfills annually

The United States and the world continue to bring more renewable or green energy online. One such method of green energy is a wind turbine.

Old wind blades stacked on top of each other in a field owned by Global Fiberglass Solutions in Sweetwater, Texas. (Spectrum News/Ashley McElroy)

Over the next few years, companies will decommission some 8,000 turbine blades in the United States alone. This number will grow in the coming years as companies bring more online.

We use fiberglass to make wind turbine blades. Fiberglass is a composite material made up of fine fibers of glass mixed with resin. This is a very strong, relatively lightweight material. This is also why it is difficult to break down and recycle.

So, most companies send the blades to landfills and bury them.

Companies are developing alternatives to trashing blades

One company, Veolia, signed an agreement with General Electric Renewable Energy. Veolia shreds these mammoth fiberglass blades and uses them as an additive for Portland cement. The shredded fiberglass from a seven-ton windmill blade replaces several tons of raw material such as coal, silica, limestone and other mineral-based raw materials.

Another company, Global Fiberglass Solutions, has developed a method to recycle the blades into composite panels, railroad ties and plastic pellets. We can use these plastic pellets to create other plastic-based products.

A company called Carbon Rivers is attempting to recycle fiberglass into components for vehicles and sports equipment.

With the hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions, being spent to green our energy production, we need to make sure we aren't solving one problem and creating another.

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